Saturday, October 27, 2012

Flashback: The Thing About the Library . . .

No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library.--Samuel Johnson


When people find out I worked in a library, surrounded by the glory of literature, they are absolutely boggled when I said I left quickly and happily after only a year. Why on earth would I want to leave such a wonderful place? Well, I'll tell you. You see, you collect a lot of stories working in a public library on the wrong side of town.  Before I start with my stories, I do want you to know that, for the most part, our patrons were very normal people, and some were even very, very sweet.  Sadly, it's the nasties who stick with you.  It's the ones that are so rude or so strange you see them more than anything else.  Try as I might, I see a couple of faces who were pleasant, kind, but most of the faces and events are things that leave me either laughing or with a bad taste in my mouth.  The library is a strange, strange place . . .
  • There's a couple that comes in often. The man is all skin, grease and angles with the same American bandana and slick, weasly pony tail. Both of them slur so badly you wonder if they've been drinking since dawn. He smells so strongly of cigarette smoke and unbathed human that you have to hold your breath (we have LOTS of people like that). . He asks for religious movies. Why? "I keep trying to get him to read the Bible," the woman says, "but he says 'I don' haveta. I've seen the movie.' "
    "Yeah," he calls from the DVDS, "they need to hurry up and make the rest of em so I can see the whole book."

  • A lady brings a DVD up to the desk. "There's something wrong with this. No matter what I do, it just won't play in English."
    A coworker and I examine it. "Well, ma'am. It's a foreign film. It doesn't speak in English."
    "Naw, it's just broken."
    Despite the "Foreign" label, every DVDs first language should be English, apparently.
  • One day, a fellow decided he wanted to chatter while I registered him for a library card. He asks, "So what school are you going to?"
    "Oh, no, I graduated."
    "Which high school?"
    "Oh. You look really young. What was your major?"
    "Oh, so this is like your DREAM job."
    I should have shut my mouth right then. I should have agreed with him and said, "Yes, sorting books, shelving DVDs, and registering library cards is all I've wanted to do with my life" -- don't get me wrong, the librarian is an extremely NOBLE profession, but it just wasn't in my list of life goals. But I didn't. I said I wanted to be a writer, which sent him into a speal about the video game he's creating and how he'd love to collaborate. I wish him best of luck as he leaves and begin organizing returned books. Fifteen minutes later, he's back at the counter.
    "Well, I'm leaving now."
    "Umm . . . ok. Bye. Have a good day."
    "So, when do you want to get together to exchange stories?"
    I am flabbergasted. I mean, seriously. "Um . . . I'm sorry, I'm really busy."
    "I'm flexible."
    "I'm planning a wedding!" I burst out.
    "Oh, you plan weddings, too??"
    At a loss for words and completely frazzled, I hold up my left hand sporting a brand new engagement ring. "My wedding."
    "Oh . . . uh . . . ok then. Bye."
    That was day two of my employment.
  •  A very pregnant girl came to the front desk asking for a baby name book. Her boyfriend, a skinny fellow with a mullet and jean overalls (no lie), came up behind her and said, "She don't like the names I'm picking for my boy. Every one in my family has been named Billy Bob or Joe or somethin' but she don't like none of those!"
    I really, really hope that it was a big prank because, oh my golly . . .

  • Once upon a time, our power went out and our system went down. Power outages are common in thunderstorm-ridden Florida summers, but it's a big deal, here, because suddenly everyone's fussing because his or her computer went down and they want more time NOW. Well, this time, not only did our computers go out, but our system . . . OCLS could not check in any items anywhere by the main branch. For a day and half. the afternoon following system failure, it suddenly decided to start working. A regular, a perfectly round fellow in a wheelchair with Jehovah Witness pamphlets in the pocket, zoomed up to the desk. "Did you check in my DVDs?"
    "No sir, we--"
    I was cut off by his sudden collapse onto the counter head in his hands, wailing, "WHY DIDN'T YOU CHECK THEM IN?!?! THEY WERE TURNED IN YESTERDAY!! I GAVE THEM TO HER!!! NOW I CAN'T GET NO MORE MOVIES!!!"
    "Sir, the system just started working again. We will check them in as soon as we can."
    "I don' wan' no late fees," he mutters glaring at me from under his arms.
    "You won't have them, sir."
    He sits there, despondant, glaring at me in an odd mix of anger and pitifulness, until he finally sighs and wheels away, stacking more movies in his bag.
    DVDs are a serious life or death matter here.

  • I don't remember his real name. Paul or Donald or something. I know him simply as "Spittle Man." It's a horrid name, but it was the first title that came to mind when we met--I was mesmerized by the over-abundant ammount of spit in his mouth, and I have been unable to rename him. He's a regular. Everyday. He comes in, wearing that same gray polo with the stain at his paunch, and holds his computer reservation receipt up to a clerk. "This thing says I have a fifteen minute wait, but there's an empty computer now. Give me that one."
    "Well, sir," the unfortunate clerk answers, "the system assigns you the computer with earliest availability. The empty one is either out of order or someone has logged off early and it holds a pending reservation."
    "Well, if there's no one on it now, I should be able to log on. I'm just curious as to why your system won't let me." Thus begins a 20 minute agonizing arguement of policy and system.
    Here's a recent incident . . . a boy has told me his mom is having problems logging onto her computer, so I go to help her, and realize that it is ten minutes past the log-in time, so she probably lost her reservation. Simultaneously, Spittle Man storms up to our customer service lead, proclaiming, "Some woman is trying to get on my computer! I have a reservation for 4:45 and I'm losing my 60 minutes! I want her off! She says someone at the desk gave her a reservation for MY computer!"
    As I am attempting a log in, I hear the smug spittle-filled voice behind me. "So YOU'RE the one who started all the trouble."
    "Is there a problem, sir?" I say as coolly as possible, my face flaming.
    A receipt is shoved under my nose.
    "Her reservation is for 4:30."
    "But mine's for 4:45," he says.
    "I signed her up at 4:00 for a 4:30 reservation." I then turn to the boy. "I'm really sorry, but I think the reservation expired. I can get her another one at the desk."
    Spittle Man is already there, demanding a brand new reservation because he has lost three of his sixty minutes and that is totally unacceptable. He continues to rant while my lead tries to get him his reservation but she can't because she can't concentrate over the noise.
    DVDs are life and death . . . computers equally so.

  • I used to open Tuesday mornings, the new DVD day, the day patrons lined up two hours before opening so they could rush they door and snag every title. When I had time, I mixed up some of the titles so they were harder to find while patrons pressed their faces against the glass, desperate for a glimpse of the DVDs invisible through the distant tinted windows. Maybe I was a meany for hiding them, but I was trying to give the nice people who came in after work and school a chance to see new movies, too. Tuesdays made me sick.
  •  One day, an older African-American woman entered wearing a red hat and rage. She came up to the counter, "Did you check in my DVD?"
    "My DVD. I turned it in, but you're chargin' me late fees. What did you do with my movie?"
    I take her card, look up her account, and begin the search and filling out the claims form--a form sent to several branches asking to locate lost objects. Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, the patron really HADN'T turned in the item. Other times, it's just so lost there's no hope.  While I type, she begins o describe all of her woes, how the world is out to get her. How they shut down her power just to spite her. How we open at nine just so she has to ride her bike in the heat to get her.  Then suddenly she grows very quiet, leaning on the counter, face turned away from me. "Do you know what I'm doin'?" she asks solemnly.
    "No, ma'am."
    "I'm praying to Jesus. I am renouncing the devils here and telling them to give me back my movie. You find it. No more tricks now. I'm renouncing all the evil spirits here."
    I almost laughed except that we found her movie shortly after that.  She had been asking us to look at the wrong branch.  She had turned it in, just like she said, and all fees were removed.  Demons or not.

  • Each night, we had to check the bathrooms for stragglers after closing. One night, we found a giant penis wearing a superman cape scrawled on the wall. I mean, mural-sized. Genitalia in a super-hero cape. I laughed and I laughed.

  • The hoverers make my skin crawl. All of our DVDs are in security cases, and, when we've checked in and double-scanned returned DVDs we case them on a cart near the desk so patrons can check them out. The moment they hear the CLICK SNAP CLICK of the security cases, patrons are suddenly at my side, with no sense of personal space, craning to read the titles or snatch a DVD before anyone else. They react to the sound the way my cat reacts when she hears me pouring food in her dish. It's just a movie, really.
  •  One time, I opened a DVD case, and a little roach crawled out. Another time, I watched a small roach scuttle out of a patron's cloth bag, look around, and then scurry back inside like it was going home. The patron tried to smash it, but I'm not sure there was any success . . .
  • One evening, I was shelving, when I heard someone call my name. I turned, and our shelver's boyfriend was relaxing at one of the many tables used by the Saturday chess club.  "Sarah, why are you working at a library? Why aren't you modeling or something?"
    "Ummmm  . . . I like it here? I've never really had any interest in modeling. Don't want to lose all that weight."
    He laughs, saying, "Oh, no, please don't lose weight!"
    The next week, he's there again, and says, "Sarah, I've been thinking about what you said the other night, about not losing weight to model?"
    "Uuuuuuuuh . . . "
    "And I was thinking, maybe you should model for men who'd appreciate your figure. Like Black Man Magazine."
    "Uuuuhhh . . . no, thank you, I'm fine."
    I'm still reeling over that one. And, might I mention, I had my WEDDING RING on???

  • We had a flasher in, once. Apparently, there have been a handful of flasher stories before my employment, but I was privileged enough to be on the clock for this one. -_-  Oh, and there was a drive-by shooting across the street one night shortly after we closed . . . and the Dollar General next door was robbed at least twice during the year I worked there. Classy spot.
Like I had said, these, sadly are the NEGATIVE stories. There are several good ones--all the nice people I met, the ladies and gentlemen who greeted every clerk by name every time they came in.  There was nothing quite as sweet as helping someone find something or solve a computer problem and having them sincerely thank you. The library was a wonderful service to so many people, and, as you all know, people come in all kinds of conditions with all kinds of attitudes.  Oh, and I loved my coworkers--seriously a GREAT group of people.  Plus there were the books.  Always books. Support your local libraries. Really, do it. There are so many people who NEED their services -- the free internet access, the aid in studies, the education programs, the ESL and citizenship classes -- they offer SO MUCH and can be such a bright light.

But by summer 2010, the time came for me to pursue a teaching career, and that brought on a new mass of stories. Still, the library will live in a special place in my heart, a place of infamy and fondness, in its odd little way. There's always light in the dirty places.


  1. Wow I never knew the library was so rife with drama! Ha!

  2. As a kid I wanted to work in a library but then I kind of grew out of it when I could never find the books I wanted I just didnt understand the coding! I could imagine the funny stories of customers who come in, Im sure Iv stood behind some of those before in fact ... this foreign dvd is broken it doesnt have english ... classic!

  3. Omg! This is INSANE! I can't believe this happens in real life! Our library is full of drunk homeless people. And perverted old men using the computers for their daily dose of you know what. ;]

    Jeez. I can't believe you lasted a year! I would have Peaced out in 6 minutes.

  4. Haha, WHAT!! This is so ridiculous! And pretty funny, although I probably wouldn't think as much so if I lived through it. Kudos for sticking out the year!


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